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Rays owner opens wallet to keep team competitive

AP - Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) -- Four trips to the playoffs in six seasons hasn't changed Stuart Sternberg's expectations for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The goal entering spring training each year may be to play deep into October, however the club's principal owner rejects the notion that anything short of reaching the World Series would be a disappointment in 2014.

Even after an unexpected offseason of spending kept most of last season's roster intact and boosted one of baseball's smallest payrolls to around $80 million, a team record.

''We've got real problems if I'm thinking that,'' Sternberg said, noting the Rays realistically couldn't make that claim, even if they had been able to spend another $30 million to put together a team to compete in a division featuring four rivals - the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays - that far outspend Tampa Bay.

''We could've spent $110 million - we couldn't spend it. If we had spent it, we wouldn't have that anticipation,'' Sternberg added. ''We're outspent by 2, 2 1/2 X. And then, the division that we play in, to think that you're somehow going to have this goal and reasonable opportunity to be in the playoffs is nuts.''

Sternberg spoke on a variety of topics during a visit to the team's spring training complex, including the future of pitching ace David Price and - to a lesser degree - the team's desire for a new stadium and whether new St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman can make a difference in discussions.

''It's kind of hard to have expectations. We've been at this for eight years basically, about a new stadium,'' the owner said. ''I'm human in some respects. I'm a little numb to it, but I do think things will be different. Time-wise, I can't say. My focus is nurturing and trying to win as many baseball games for our fans.''

That includes giving executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman the financial flexibility to improve a roster than won 92 games and lost to Boston in the ALDS last season.

Price, who will become a free agent after the 2015 season, was the subject of trade talk this winter. The Rays listened, but eventually agreed to a $14 million, one-year contract with the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner.

''I wouldn't say it's likely his last year,'' Sternberg said. ''As I said before, we've kept a number of free agents and stars - high-paid guys - right through the end. So, winning still trumps all.''

The owner called Price ''unique, talented'' and reiterated how much the 28-year-old means to the franchise.

''I won't say one of a kind, but David is like one of a handful. You just can't make decisions like that this far in advance, and we're trying to give the team as big of a chance as we can this year without sacrificing our future as well,'' Sternberg said. ''There's the opportunity of other players, there's the expense that's involved in it, but were still a little bit, I don't want to say blinded, but a little enamored with the possibilities of what we can do, and what he brings.''

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